Here’s a story about the best wedding catering gig ever, featuring a great messy explosion.
It was a sparkling, gorgeous Carolina day, and friends and relations gathered at the home of the bride’s family for a ceremony and feast for a beloved couple.
For those of us working in the kitchen, the day had started early with lots of food prep. Staff and food were all gifts to the bride and groom, great lovers of outstanding food before anyone had used the word ‘locavore’. Most of the bounty had been personally caught, gathered, produced and brought by people with reverence. And as the guests moved away from the house, down towards the water for the ceremony, we swung into gear from prep to service. In a professional kitchen, this shift in energy usually begins with the traditional pre-service meeting. As one writer said of many kitchens this ritual often goes like this: “Your shoes are dirty, you can go home early, and we’re out of sea bass”. But this job was different, a labor of love. So the pre-service meeting was sweet, a time for the young chef in charge (a friend of the bride’s family) to reflect on how fortunate we were to have this fun opportunity and the beautiful food to work with. We gathered, breathed in gratitude, then moved with quiet purpose, first foods in the oven to cook, much more to follow.
CRACK……. BANG!! ……..TINKLE-CRUNCH…..
The loud explosion of Pyrex pans holding the first round of appetizers reduced the bottom of our only oven to a four-inch sludge of sauce, meat and broken glass.
Chef, with a cool, scary-calm demeanor that belied his youth said, “OK, there's a new plan. I’m going outside for a minute, and when I come back, I'll let you know what it is.” We waited in silence.
I like to imagine he looked up at a sky just like this one I saw the other day. And he did come back with a plan. Soon cooks were scattered among the nearby neighbors’ houses and ovens, while children and servers ran plates and platters through woods and yards, and all was well. I’m not aware that the family or guests knew what a kaleidoscope of effort went into serving the food that day. And I don’t know where that chef landed in his career, but I know they’re lucky to have him.
Life in the culinary world brings an amusing array of potential and actual disasters, as my peers will attest. It’s not a matter of IF it goes to hell, but WHEN it goes to hell. In my experience, you’re not truly a seasoned chef until you learn how to feed people with a smile when there’s no water, or when there’s so much water the ceiling has caved in. Or when the food is being finished with a blowtorch because someone along the line dropped a very big ball, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s on your shoulders now to make sure no one ever knows how the pretty, delicious, safe food got on the plates and forks.
Lorne Michaels is one of my heroes. He’s been creating and producing Saturday Night Live for forty years. He says,
”We don't go on because we're ready; we go on because it's 11:30.”
Remember: disaster is not failure, nor is failure necessarily disaster. When the crew around you is looking to you for leadership, hold your head up, keep your game face on, and breathe deeply.
The show does go on.